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Britain’s Oscar Contender ‘Under The Shadow’ Is An Indie Horror Full Of Atmospheric Tension — IndieWire On Demand

Britain's official entry for the Best Foreign Language Oscar is an expert study in atmospheric tension.

Under the Shadow

Iranian director Babak Anvari’s slow-burn drama suggests “The Babadook” by way of the Iranian New Wave. Set during the 1988 Iran-Iraq war, the movie finds a young mother guarding her daughter’s life as Iraqi bombs rain down on unsuspecting buildings at night. But that turns out to be the least of their problems when their apartment winds up haunted by a demonic presence that puts the daughter in its crosshairs. Solid jump scares are given fresh definition thanks to Anvari’s clever use of the minimalist setting, and the developing sense that the real terror lurks outside, where an oppressive government offers little in the way of respite. The scariest thing about “Under the Shadow” is that fleeing one monster doesn’t guarantee safety from a much larger one in the form of the authorities. —EK

Availability: Netflix.

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It’s been quite the year for rising director Babak Anvari. His directorial debut “Under The Shadow” turned heads at Sundance all the way back in January, where it was snatched up by Netflix and spent much of the year earning acclaim at film festivals around the world. Just last month, Britain announced it had officially chosen the horror film as its official selection of the Best Foreign Language Oscar, a huge surprise that totally makes sense given the expert levels of craftsmanship and tension on display.

READ MORE: Oscars: Here’s Why Britain Has A Foreign-Language Submission With ‘Under the Shadow’

Set during the War of Cities in 1980s Tehran, “Under The Shadow” is part supernatural horror film, part mother-daughter drama, and the power of the film is how it uses one genre to effectively subvert the other. Narges Rashidi gives a bold lead performance as Shideh, a mother who refuses to abandon her home despite her husband’s protest and the increasingly violent missile strikes taking place all over the city. As tenants leave one by one, Shideh and her daughter find themselves isolated alone, forced to confront a presence that refuses to leave.

Back at its Sundance premiere, IndieWire Chief Film Critic Eric Kohn hailed “Under The Shadow” as the year’s first great horror movie. “Though it ultimately falls back on the usual pileup of scare tactics — floating things, gooey things, sudden forms emerging from the shadows — Anvari uses this toolbox in a pointed fashion,” he wrote in his A- review. “‘Under the Shadow’ smartly observes the emotions stirred up by a world defined by restrictions, and the terrifying possibility that they might be inescapable.”

With the movie earning strong reviews and ready to hit the Oscar season, it’s the perfect week to watch “Under The Shadow” on VOD. Need more reasons? IndieWire Film Editor Kate Erbland makes the case for the horror film in the video below.

Want to watch more indie films on VOD? Here are our 6 top picks of the month:

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